“I want to tell original stories, not make superhero movies…” - hmv.com talks to Slow West director John Maclean
As his acclaimed western Slow West hits DVD shelves (it’s available to order on the right-hand side of the page) we sat down with first-time director and former Beta Band member John Maclean to find out all about making the movie.
Slow West stars Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee and follows Jay (Smit-McPhee), a young man who heads to America from Scotland and travels across the land in pursuit of the woman he loves. Along the way he attracts the attentions of Silas (Fassbender), an outlaw who is willing to serve as his guide on the dangerous journey that awaits him.
We asked Maclean about how he snared Michael Fassbender to star and why he wanted to do a western with a serious twist…
When did you start work on Slow West?
“It’s been a long time, I did my short film Pitch Black Heist in 2011 and I started on it after that. It took me two years to get the script together, then it was four months preparation, six weeks shooting and then the editing.”
How did you find getting funding for the movie?
“That wasn’t so bad. I’d done two short films with Michael Fassbender already and one of them was for Film4. So I had the backing of Film4, BFI and I had Michael Fassbender, so that was a really good basis to get started. I wrote Silas for Michael, I knew he could do the Clint Eastwood type cowboy.”
What made you decide to write a western?
“When I started writing people weren’t making Westerns and I wanted to stand out. There’s so much myth and I wanted unpick and do something different with it. I read up on the real history of the West and I wanted to tell a story about people coming over from Scotland and Ireland.”
Did you watch many of the classic westerns?
“I went back and watched them, a lot of the spaghetti westerns and the classics, as many as I could get my hands on, I got a new appreciation for the John Wayne ones, how iconic they are.”
Were you nervous about making a western? For every True Grit there’s a Jonah Hex, they don’t always work...
“The thing that unites those movies is big budgets and CGI, they don’t suit westerns, they need to be intimate stories.”
What was the toughest moment making the film?
“Some of the locations weren’t great. You can pick somewhere out and we shot in New Zealand so there were all those beautiful places, but once you’ve got a full crew and cameras everywhere, it can quickly become hell for everybody. Luckily we had great weather, it could have been a lot worse.”
How did you find directing Michael? Not every first-time director gets to work with a A-List star…
“It’s the same process as with anyone and it’s quite easy to forget all that, once you get into it he becomes the character and you stop thinking it’s Michael Fassbender, he’s just Silas. You’re all just trying to get the best out of each other. Michael’s a very relaxed character, he’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s good at keeping intensity to the work and being relaxed off it.”
How did you find handling all the weapons?
“When you go to New Zealand and Peter Jackson isn’t making a movie you get all of his crew and that’s where you need real specialists, you can’t get experience like that quickly, I’d ask for the kind of weapon I thought the characters needed and they’d make sure I got them. When those guns go off, they really go off. Real charges and a lot of smoke.”
So what are you up to now?
“I’m writing at the moment, getting my thoughts together for what’s next.”
Do you have any directors whose careers you really admire?
“I like directors that stick with their crew and backers. I don’t want to mess it. Obviously it depends on the story, but I’d love to work with the same actors again. I really like the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino. Directors who don’t make franchises, people who own their own work and have a unique style, a style you’ve developed over a long time. I want to tell original stories, not make superhero movies…”
Do you think you fancy another trip to the West...
“Maybe in years to come. There are more yarns to spin.."
Slow West is out now on DVD.